Fearless Love

Today, on Valentine’s Day, I picked up an old “Magnolia Journal” which I have carried around in my book bag for nearly a year without taking the time to read. A big quote page drew me in. It asked: “If fear wasn’t part of the equation, how would your life look different?” The article, a short half page, was written by Chip Gaines. It’s no surprise that he would be encouraging the world to risk failure. In his funny antics he does it on most every episode of Fixer Upper—jumping off of precipices, bursting through walls, trying for the impossible basketball shot or attempting to pick up too-heavy objects. He lets his failures be fun and entertaining.

For me living from the “fear triad” of the Enneagram, “Failure” is a terrifying word—something to be avoided at all costs.  Something primal in me tells me, though I wouldn’t usually acknowledge it, that if I fail in an attempt, I am the failure.  Of course, I know that isn’t correct, but it is my default modus operandi as I approach life.

“Fear-less”[i] is the name of Chip’s article and, as a wordsmith, I love the twist of turning an adjective into a verb-adverb and thus to receive a subtle shift in paradigm.  This is exemplified again in Chip’s statement: “The courage to take your shot is half the battle.  The other half?  Viewing failure as a teacher and not an enemy.”

Risk, courage, and potential failure arise continually.  Valentine’s Day is a day of risk:

Sending a Valentine

Asking for a date

Saying “Yes” to an invitation to a date

Saying no to an invite

Getting married

Not getting married

Loving anyone

Not loving anyone

Setting Boundaries

Holding on

Letting go

Initiating a Friendship

Watching the winter Olympics I’m always amazed at the number of courageous athletes.  Really what they’re doing over and over and over is risking failure.  Of all the competitors, what are the odds of getting the gold?  And even for the medal winners, they are up on the podium only because they’ve allowed failure to teach them through multiple previous failed attempts at their sport.

Now my rational mind immediately can bring up exceptions to fearlessness such as when the consequences of failure are grave.  As mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal pointed out in his “wager” that it is staggeringly more risky not to believe in God than to believe in him: “I would have far more fear of being mistaken and of finding that the Christian religion was true, than of not being mistaken in believing it true.”[ii]  This is not the kind of fearlessness I choose to embrace.

On the other hand, yearly, monthly, daily I make decisions not to risk.  I choose “safe” often over living life to the fullest, over fearing the possibility of failure, and in doing so I miss opportunities, adventure, and even life lessons.  I know that:

            The sun still shines—after I fail.

            People still love me—after I fail.

            I love myself—after I fail.

            God loves me—after I fail.

I really like the book of Proverbs of the Bible.  I’m re-reading it now in The Message[iii] and seeing passages with new eyes, hearing with new ears.  Proverbs comes right up to us and tells us to Fear!  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom….” (Proverbs 9:10, NIV) The Message puts it this way: “Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God….”  But the same book of Proverbs also tells us to be bold and risk everything to find wisdom.  “Sell everything and buy Wisdom.  Forage for Understanding…Above all and before all, do this: Get Wisdom!”  As Blaise Pascal alluded to—there is big risk in not choosing God.  The God of love, peace, grace, and mercy gives us a choice.  Fear of God or Denial of God.  “Lady Wisdom” asks to be our filter—our first filter on whether to risk or what to risk.  The fear-of-God need be our main fear— “bowing down to God”; “paying attention” to God: “Lady Wisdom will be your close friend, and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion.  Good Sense will scout ahead for danger.  Insight will keep an eye out for you.  They’ll keep you from making wrong turns….”  They’ll keep you from risking what shouldn’t be risked.  “Carelessness kills; complacency is murder.  First pay attention to me, and then relax.  Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands.”[iv] 

For some of us predisposed to fear, we hear the first part of that verse but forget the 2nd.  We—I—forget the part about, “then relax.  Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands.”

Living life is taking risks. Living, abiding in, dwelling in safety by choosing to climb up into the lap, the embrace, the love of God, frees us to relax–frees us to walk forward fearlessly toward joy and peace, beauty, fun and adventure, and yes, even walk forward through failure and loss—because we can choose not to ever risk letting go of the One who is Love and the Love will not let go of us.[v]


[i] Magnolia Journal, A Look at Risk, Summer 2021, page 116-117

[ii] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 241

[iii] God, Eugene Peterson, The Message, translation of The Bible

[iv] Excerpts from The Message, Proverbs

[v] Romans 8:35-39

Bonsai

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Yesterday I bought a bonsai.  I’ve been waiting years to have one–nearly since I have heard of them.  My bonsai is not one long cultivated by a master gardener and sold for hundreds of dollars.  Mine came in a little porcelain dish from my local Lowe’s store for $22.98.  The 20-something woman watering all the plants said she had always wanted one too.  The checkout lady admired it thinking it was a gift.

“No,” I said.  “It is for me.”

Like the genuine and respectable Enneagram 5 personality type that I am, the Investigator or Analyzer, over time I’ve studied the art of bonsai thoroughly.  I’ve checked out books from the library, visited several Japanese gardens, drooled over these intricate shapes at numerous horticultural events and landscape stores.  I even took a bonsai class and purchased bonsai pruning shears–but alas–no bonsai for me…until yesterday.

It’s likely my Enneagram 4-wing, the Romantic, that draws me to these little miniature windswept masterpieces–kind of in the way that I am fascinated with Tiny Houses, and have spent many hours watching shows on designing and building them…and yet do not own one.

To me, a bonsai is a metaphor for life– the Master Gardener trimming and twisting, pruning and shaping, bending and supporting–hence strengthening,

the plant:

me–

us–

makes us into lovely masterpieces.

I’m going through the Ignatian Exercises for a second time in my life.  I am doing the longer version and one that follows the Liturgical Calendar.  We are headed toward Lent–the time when, like my bonsai, we bend down–to receive ashes and remember that we are dust.  We trust Hands to our roots and branches–even in the valley of the shadow of death.  We know that we are a beautiful creation with the training eyes and touch of our Master Gardener.

To prepare for the exercises, the book I’m following invited me to pray a prayer by Thomas Merton:

My Lord, God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following your will

does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always

though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

(The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life, Kevin O’Brien, SJ, Loyola Press, Chicago, 2011, page 37)

After reading Merton’s prayer, I wrote my own–and my new bonsai reminds me of my prayer during this time of spiritual cultivation and training:

God,

I want to do this for us–

for our relationship to grow.

I feel like a kindergartener*:

I the kinder

You the Teacher;

I the branch

You the Gardener.

I am wild,

and prone to return to the wild

whenever I look away

or leave your training twine.

Handle me.

Touch me, O Gardener.

Apply me to your training espalier.

Help me stay pliable–

not to stiffen up in my “knowing”

but to remain supple;

not to resist your twists

upward and outward.

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*https://www.etymonline.com/word/kindergarten